There was a humorous article in the newspaper about how a person manages to secure table reservations at restaurants when the hostess has been telling other people that there will be nothing available for three weeks.

The gentleman in question says, “I want a reservation, please, for two people, tomorrow at 8.” (WSJ, 12/7/2011, Gardner). The speaker pointed out that normally you would say, “I would like.” His version, “I want,” is more forceful, maybe even rude, so he then tempers it with the “please.”

This got me thinking about how helpful it would be if we could have a rudeness scale from 1 to 10 with each succeeding number on the scale representing a more and more aggressive statement culminating in full-scale verbal abuse.

The above sentence would be, say, a 2 because the “I want” is rude regardless of the “please” but the whole thing could be a lot worse.

This post would be really long so I divided it up into three parts. This is Part 1.

Here goes:

1 – “Do you think I’m stupid?”

It’s not overtly rude. However, you are accusing someone of thinking that you are stupid. Since “stupid” is one of those inflammatory words, it’s a bit aggressive. A more toned-down approach could be, “It sounds as if you don’t have much faith in my judgment.”

2 – see the restaurant reservations story above

3 – “You always put your foot in your mouth. Why do you embarrass me like that?”

While the speaker might be embarrassed, she is nevertheless unjustified in being aggressive in return. “You” is rude. It’s critical and blaming. “always” is a real mistake since that is surely impossible. People aren’t always wrong. They may be wrong frequently, but even that is pretty heavy. It’s not a positive comment; it’s unduly negative and critical. If the speaker is unhappy with the person she’s speaking to, this is not a good way to get him to improve.

If you are one of those “always” and “never” people, read Albert Ellis.

Then the question, “Why do you embarrass me like that?” has no real answer. I’m sure if the person who is being asked was aware of it, he wouldn’t have done it. The question is just needling.

A better way of getting your point across would have been, “When you said X, I was pretty embarrassed. I wish you hadn’t done that.” If this husband has consistently been doing this, then there is a greater problem. It looks to me like he doesn’t understand the essence of what is wrong with it. It’s not so much that you haven’t communicated; I’m sure you’ve tried. Rather, it’s that he just doesn’t get it, so it needs to be said in different terms, terms he can understand. If you’re banging your head on the wall because you have no idea where to go from here, perhaps you do need the intervention of an outside party, i.e., a therapist.

Next post: scale numbers 4-7

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